Q&A with Ian Marchant
Why did you set out on this journey of yours? And tell us a little about your strategy to get from a) St Agnes to b) Unst?
Well, I did the journey from ignorance; from curiosity if you prefer. I just realised that pubs were so familiar that we could hardly see them anymore. Pubs are so familiar, in fact, that everyone is an expert on them. I thought of doing an appendix, called the 100 Best Pubs Ive Never Been To But People Tell Me I Should Have. I hope that I unearthed some unfamiliar sights; not least the islands of St. Agnes and Unst, the first and last places in Britain. I regard people who go merely from Lands End to John O Groats as lightweights.
Is the notion of pub "culture" a very British idea, do you think?
Very British. English, even, since pubs in Scotland are utterly different, and large parts of Wales were dry until very recently. They are also very male; some of the moral panic in the press about drinking is because women have been seen publicly drunk for the first time since the Gin Fever of the Eighteenth Century; and respectable girls dont get falling over drunk.
Are you or were you ever tempted to jack it all in and become a landlord?
Incredibly, yes. Its the worst gig on earth, but I still fancy a go. The pub Id most like to run is The Baltasound Hotel, the last pub in Britain. I have a mad plan to make it lively, interesting, welcoming for locals and tourists alike; all I need is three hundred grand.
The Pub quiz forms a significant part of your affection for boozers. Explain the appeal to those not familiar with this most dynamic of pastimes.
I used to work in a bookmakers shop. My old boss said to me once that there is no such thing as useless knowledge. In order to demonstrate how facile this statement was, I asked him which racecourse was both the most southerly and westerly in Britain. He called me a word which hates women, (bookmakers shops are not terribly refined places, Im afraid.) Fifteen years later, Im sitting in a pub quiz, and up comes the question; What is the most southerly and westerly racecourse in Britain? Newton Abbot, I say. The quiz was won, and my old gaffer was vindicated; there really is no such thing as useless knowledge. Pub quizzes exist in order to ensure this is true. Pub quiz is a thing of beauty. It should be in the 2012 Olympics.
Do you have a favourite pub from among the (how many was it you visited?)
We visited about 125 pubs in the month we were away,; 100 are mentioned by name in the book. My joint favourites are The Duke of Yorks in Iddesleigh, Devon, and The Yorkshire House, in Lancaster.
Did you discover anything along the way that surprised you?
Everyday. Thats why we go traveling, I think. Even when we are traveling to places that have already been discovered, and on even our most everyday journeys there are surprises round every corner.
Is there a sense that pub culture is on the rise (Michelin starred pub restaurants and so on) or on the decline (meathead bouncers outside high street pubs in town centres
) or is that misunderstanding the idea of "pub culture"?
Pub Culture changes like any culture over time, and a good thing too. Its up to the participants in any culture to make sure that change is welcome and positive. The idea of Orwells Moon Under Water, with its heavy Victorian interior of polished mahogany and mirrors, where homely barmaids pull nut brown pints of foaming ale and serve liver sausage sandwiches has had a grip on the pub mans imagination for sixty years, and perhaps its time is passing. I think we need to make a place at the bar for the pub woman, and pub children. Thats why the books subtitle is A Childs Treasury of Booze.
How drunk did you get on the journey?
Well, the idea was to desensationalise drinking; to remind people that moderate drinking is a thing of beauty, and that alcohol, whilst a powerful drug, can be used sensibly and responsibilty
And, er, we got very very drunk. About one night in three
You seem to suggest that British literature is irrevocably linked to drinking culture (and vice versa). In what way?
English literature starts in a pub; The Tabard, In Southwark, from where the Canterbury Pilgrims begin their journey. Mind you, English everything probably starts in a pub. I know I did, one Whitsun Bank Holiday Monday, when my dad got my mum tiddly on Babycham
Will you ever eat pork scratchings again?
With enormous pleasure. Despite eating three kilos in five days. Despite some of my clothes still smelling of them.
Whats next for Mr Marchant?
A pilgrimage, by electric bike. A fools errand.